Revivals in the Bible - The Old Testament (Lessons 1-9)
Group Bible Study Materials.
The Bible studies in this booklet seek to open up some of the treasures to be found in the accounts of revival movements recorded in Biblical times.
Although study material on Biblical revivals have, in the past, been scarce, the subject is of great importance because of its relevance to the growth of the Church throughout the world. The subject is also vitally important for bringing the transforming impact of the Gospel to help meet the many great needs in modern society.
This scarcity alone would make the publication of this booklet into a worthwhile project.
The booklet, however, has been prepared to serve a purpose linked to special circumstances.
The author, with the help of the Rev. Roy McKenzie, of Gore, Southalnd, New Zealand, wrote a book entitled "Evangelical Revivals in New Zealand". The present booklet, along with some other study materials, were prepared to back-up and support this publication.
However, the booklet may also have a wider ministry of its own. If this occurs, the author will be grateful to God. Turning the attention of as many Christians as possible to the subject of revivals in the Bible will help to prepare God's people for outpourings of the Holy Spirit which are so greatly needed today throughout the world.
The author will be grateful to hear from anyone who wishes to make suggestions which might improve this book, and his prayer is that, in some small way at least, the Lord Jesus will use this material to build His church throughout the world, and to honour the name of the Heavenly Father. To God be the glory.
There are many instances recorded in the Old Testament where devotion to God, and the quality of spiritual life, were renewed.
There are also a number of times in the New Testament record when a substantial turning to God took place, and spiritual life was deepened.
Such times of spiritual renewal took place in a wide range of circumstances, although certain common factors can usually be found. There are many different causes and accompanying features which were used by God in bringing about this new quality of spiritual life.
Some of the features associated with Biblical events were very different indeed from what life is like today. When we talk about "revivals" in the Bible, we naturally tend to think about Biblical events which were, perhaps, like evangelical revivals such as we have known in the last few centuries, especially in Western Protestant Christianity. The events in Biblical history, however, were not necessarily like the evangelical revivals in modern history.
What is "Revival"?
So, for the purposes of this Bible study, we will avoid lengthy definitions of "revival" which might have been more appropriate if we were studying modern movements, and we will use a very simple definition, which, I believe, is fully adequate for any study of revivals in the Bible.
"Revival", in the Bible, means any remarkable improvement in devotion to God by God's people.
In some instances, it can even apply to renewed devotion to God by a leading individual, such as a head of family or clan, like Jacob.
In this sense, the repentance of the people of Nineveh, following the preaching of Jonah, would have to be classed as an "awakening", and not a revival, because it occurred amongst a people who had no previous devotion to the God of the Bible.
There are many events in Biblical history which might be classed as a revival, under these definitions. The ones which have been chosen here are the ones about which the author hopes there will be more general agreement.
God Touches Jacob Again (Genesis 35: 1 - 15.)
This new touch from God occurred to Jacob following a very sad episode in his life, described in the previous chapter.
Jacob had been a deceiver and liar, himself, in his younger days. He continued to be very self-oriented later in life, and was often not wise in the way he treated family members. Many of his sons did even worse things than Jacob had done.
God kept His covenant with Abraham, and met Jacob at several important stages of his experience. The first was at Bethel, where Jacob saw the ladder to heaven (Chap. 28.). The second was just before he met his brother Esau (chap. 32.). This chapter describes the third occasion.
Each time, although in different ways, the initiative is clearly taken by God. In this way we can recognise examples of His graciousness to a very unworthy man. This reminds us of our own unworthiness before God, and of the grace that God exercises in His dealings with us.
1. Discuss how present-day society might be different if a much greater degree of Christlikeness, love, peaceful relations, and justice were practised.
2. What happened when Jacob was first at Bethel? (chap.28: 10 - 22.) How would you describe his relationship with God at that time?
3. It is often the case that God meets us when we are at a very low point. There is an old saying "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." Discuss how this happened to Jacob in chapter 35.
4. What were the idols which Jacob collected and buried?
5. What are today's idols? There are various kinds of idols all around us in our own personal situations, and in society as a whole? Today, many things and many personal commitments, are placed before God. What are some of them?
6. What indicators are there that Jacob was deeply concerned about being attacked?
7. In what way does God guarantee Jacob's safety, and that of his family?
8. What does the name "Israel" mean? (see chapters 32: 22 -32 and 35: 9 - 12.)
9. Whatever else the name "Israel" might mean in this passage, it signifies character development in Jacob, and a new relationship with God. Read John 15: 1 -17, and 1st John 1: 7 - 10, and discuss what these two passages tell us about Christian character development for ourselves, and how it is to take place.
10. Read Galatians 5: 22 - 23, and Luke 11: 7 - 13, and discuss what these passages tell us about Christian character development. Highlight which characteristics are being talked about here.
11. Discuss Colossians 3: 1 - 17 in the same way. In what ways are the characteristics spoken of here the same as, or different from, those mentioned in the previous question?
12. Review what has been said in this discussion about faith in Jesus Christ being the key to Christian character development.
Samuel Sees Revival in Israel (1st Samuel 7: 1 - 13.)
The early history of Israel, after the time of Moses and Joshua, saw long periods when the people turned away from God. At times they worshipped other gods. But on many occasions, they mixed idolatrous religion with the worship of Jehovah.
During the times of the Judges there were many political and military crises. The difficulties were used by God to cause the people to seek the Lord for help.
In response, He raised up judges to deliver the people. This was more successful on some occasions than on others.
The Scriptures show us Samuel as a man of prayer, like his mother. Psalm 99: 6 - 9 portrays him as one of the Old Testament giants in the life of prayer. Even so, there was trouble later in his life because his sons did not follow in his footsteps. Eli had the same problem, but, he allowed his sons to commit sin in the tabernacle, which brought the worship of God into disrepute, and God punished him for it. This same painful problem experienced by Samuel and Eli has befallen many Christian parents today.
The story of revival in this chapter in one of the highlights of Samuel's life and ministry.
1. The Israelite society was not divided into sacred and secular areas, as our society is today. Then, every area was sacred, and lived under the laws of God. But, where one religion is established as the only true religion, the battle against other, false religions is a matter of deep and important principle.
The Ashtaroth was a female goddess whose worship included the areas of fertility, love and war. The Israelites had learned to worship this god from the Canaanites, although the Ashtaroth was worshipped far more widely than just in Samuel's area.
What are some of the major areas of interest relating to sex in our society? Which of these are healthy? Which of these are approved in the Bible?
2. A secular society, like our own, is devised so that many different religions can exist side by side, without there being the conflict described above, and without any one religion gaining a preferred position.
Because our position is different in that way from the one which operated in Israel, what reasons could Christians today offer for resisting the open practice of idolatry in our society?
3. After twenty years of oppression by the Philistines, it says, "there was a movement throughout Israel to follow the Lord." (verse 2.) Many people became aware of their need of God, and persisted in calling on the Lord, although for a while there seemed to be no response from God. Where have you seen signs of this desire for God? Have you felt it yourself?
4. "It is well to feel worn and fatigued with the fruitless search after happiness, that we may welcome our Deliverer." (Pascal.).
Discuss the view that people can only appreciate Christ the Saviour after they have felt a deep need for Him.
5. Samuel called upon the Israelites to show the reality of their turning back to God by getting rid of all the idols, and worshipping and serving God alone.
(a.) What sins in our society are the main ones needing repentance when people return to God?
(b.) Can you share some of the sins which easily beset you, and which require your repentance?
6. Samuel interceded for the people at Mizpah. (verses 5, 6, 9 and 10.)
(a.) Describe in your own words what happened.
(b.) Discuss the importance of earnest and persistent prayer in the revival of spiritual life in the churches, and in bringing about a general turning to God throughout society.
(c.) Comment on the role in this story of confessing the nation's sins.
(d.) What is fasting, and what does it achieve? Why should it be done?
7. The stone of help is both a testimony to God's graciousness, and also an expression of thanks to God. What are examples of this today? What more should be done in this direction?
8. What messages arise for us from this passage relating to the need for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all kinds of people in our society?
Revival in the Times of King Asa. (Second Chronicles 14 - 15.)
After the time of King Solomon the nation of Israel was split in two. The southern kingdom of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem, remained loyal to the house of David, and some of the kings tried to follow David's religious line,as well.
Asa was the third king after Solomon. Chapter 14 tells us how he destroyed the centres of idolatry, some of which had been set up by Solomon in his later years to please his foreign wives. Asa also made laws to pressure people into obeying God's laws.
He fortified some of the country towns. The Lord blessed his efforts, guided him, gave him security, with long periods of peace and prosperity. Gad also gave him a dramatic victory in the face of overwhelming invasion.
1. From the human standpoint, the origin of the revival is seen in the prayers of the king, and the message of the prophet. Describe these in your own words, and discuss the value of these factors.
2. Describe the factors involved in the return to God:- the putting away of idols; renewing the altar; celebrating the Feast of Weeks, and the making of the covenant.
3. Discuss the results of the revival, seen in the joy of the people, their new relationship with God, and the coming of peace.
1. What positive role can good law-making, and proper law enforcement, have in keeping a nation relatively righteous and just?
2. Illustrate other positive roles in making a nation relatively righteous and just which has to be played by inner character transformation and piety, and for which law-making and enforcement are inadequate.
3. Despite Asa'a good efforts, there were many serious spiritual shortcomings, illustrated for us in chapter 15: 5. List as many of these as you can from chapters 14 and 15.
4. To what extent are these evils a problem in our society, today?
5. This movement in Asa'a time was more of a reformation imposed from the top down. Imagine that there had been a spiritual revival of piety and character transformation in Asa'a time from the bottom up, such as a grass-roots spiritual surge eventually affecting the ruling classes. How would you describe what might have happened?
6. What evidence can you see in the whole passage for real spiritual devotion to God amongst the ordinary population?
7. After the great number of sacrifices, "they entered into a covenant." What are the positive values in making a promise to God such as was made here?
8. In the Old Testament, the death penalty is linked to a number of crimes. What do you think might have been the reason for linking it to failing to keep this promise to God? Why is the breaking of promises we make to God such a serious thing?
9. Explain what you see to be the meaning of Second Chronicles 16:9a. In what way was it a promise to Asa? In what way is it a promise to us?
Part One. Elijah. (First Kings, chapter 18.)
The period of three and a half years of drought was a very testing period for Israel, for those Israelites who were faithful to Jehovah, and for Elijah the prophet.
It tested Israel because Baal worship was a fertility cult which was supposed to provide the means to manipulate the weather and the harvest.
The faithful Israelites were persecuted, because they were identified with Elijah, and especially as a result of Ahab's efforts to find Elijah.
Elijah was tested because he had to rely upon God to supply every need, including food, water and protection. His ability to recognise the leading of God is amazing, especially when we remember how many mistakes people make today in trying to hear what God is saying to them. The tension and emotional impact of all these events is seen in the reaction when Elijah ran away from Jezebel (chapter 19).
The climax, however, was reached on Mount Carmel where the strangest series of events took place.
1. The contact with Obadiah reveals a little of the difficulties that the faithful Israelites were having at that time. Describe what details we know about this presecution. What persecution or pressures have you experienced?
2. Explain what Elijah meant when he said it was Ahab and his family who troubled Israel. What did Ahab mean by his accusation of Elijah?
3. The events on Mount Carmel provide a classic example of what the missionaries call a "power encounter", to demonstrate the Lord's superiority. (a.) Explain how a power encounter works, and what effect it might have. Do you know of any modern examples of this kind of thing? What are they?
(b.) How does Luke 16: 31 relate to attempts that people might make today to exercise "power evangelism"? How can we know whether God is leading us to take part in such an encounter?
4. All the people said, "The Lord is God!" (verse 39.). But Jezebel and Ahab provided a very powerful source of support for Baal worship. How much of a change do you think this power encounter actually produced in Israel?
5. It is often said that the standard miracle which demonstrates the reality of the Christian faith is raising the spiritually dead. That is, clearcut conversions to Christ provide the normal "power encounter" situation today. What do you think of this?
6. What was the role of prayer in this story?
Part Two. Jonah. (chapters 1 - 4.)
It is not clear precisely when Jonah would have lived. But it must have been before the destruction of Nineveh, which is now known to have happened in 612 BC.
This places him a little later than Elijah, but before the time of the major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
It is not the purpose of this study to raise questions about the historical reality of either Jonah, or his fish. It is the spiritual principles involved in the story that are the centre of interest here.
1. Describe Jonah's attempts to disobey God, and the unloving, racist attitudes which prompted this disobedience. What was Jonah trying to achieve by running away?
2. How was being thrown overboard an attempt to frustrate God's plans of mercy for Nineveh?
3. Describe the amazing response to Jonah's preaching.
4. Even after God showed His great mercy to the people of Nineveh, Jonah was still not pleased. Why was he like this? Nevertheless, Jonah had shown some repentance. Where was it visible?
5. Jesus said that the sign of Jonah was the only sign to be given to the people in Jerusalem, when he lived there. (Matthew 12: 38 - 41.) What parallel can you see between Jonah's three days inside the fish, followed by the repentance at Nineveh, and Christ's death on the cross followed by the events of the day of Pentecost?
6. What are the main lessons for your own spiritual life that you have learned from the story of Jonah?
Revivals during the Reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. (2nd Chronicles 19 - 20.)
Jehoshaphat was king of Judah following Asa's reign, and he was king of Judah at the same time that Ahab was king of Israel. So he was contemporary with Elijah and Elisha, although these two prophets belonged to Israel, and not to Judah.
These two chapters from Second Chronicles reveal one of the great periods in the history of the southern kingdom, based in Jerusalem.
Individual people have complex characters, with many aspects, having both commendable and less worthy features.
Even more so are whole societies much more complex than mere individuals, being made up of many different and complex people.
This story emphasises the need for justice, which was a point at which many problems arose continually through the Old Testament story.
Seeking guidance from God, and emphasising the praise of God, are also very important parts of this story.
1. Justice is the virtue, or positive quality, which relates particularly to the improvement of society, and treating people fairly. Injustice is the corresponding vice or negative quality. Discuss the main areas where a better degree of justice is most needed in our society, today.
2. The prophet criticised King Jehoshaphat in verse 2, and complimented him in verse 3. Explain what these factors were about.
3. What are the instructions that Jehoshaphat gave in verses 5 - 11 to those who were appointed to administer the law? Describe what a society would tend to be like if these things are not done.
4. This work of administering the law is shown in verse 4, and in following verses, to be an important aspect of bring ing the people back to God. Why was that so in Jehoshaphat's time? Is it still true today?
5. When an invasion threatened (chapter 20), the people of Judah sought guidance from God. What does the prayer (verses 6 - 12) tell us about the character of God?
6. Name two reponses by king and people to the words of the prophet (verses 13 - 21.).
7. How important was praise in this situation? (verse 22.)
8. Discuss the place of the praise of God after the victory. (verses 28 - 30).
9. This period seems to have been a time of revival, and there is little doubt that many people truly turned to God, and worshipped Him sincerely. Yet verses 33 - 34 show another side of things. How do you account for the two aspects of spiritual life in those days?
The Reign of King Hezekiah of Judah 2nd Chronicles 29 - 32, and Isaiah 36 - 39
Hezekiah became king of Judah following the reigns of a number of kings who disobeyed the Lord. A great deterioration had taken place in the spiritual quality of life in the country. This decline in attention to God had developed over many years. The quality of justice had also declined seriously. No doubt the two factors were related.
He became king about the same time that the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by invading armies. This could not help being an object lesson teaching what would happen to Judah, as well, if they also forsook the Lord, or practised high degrees of injustice.
1. Describe the various stages in the process of events in chapter 29, recounting how Hezekiah led the people in restoring the public worship of God.
2. Hezekiah's letter to all Israel and Judah (chapter 30: 6 - 9) mentions a number of sins and shortcomings from past years. What were they?
3. What promises does the letter contain?
4. What were the responses in Israel, and in Judah? (verses 10 - 12.)
5. What was the response when the people celebrated the feast of unleavened bread? (chapter 30: 21 - 27).
6. Describe the generosity of king and people (chapter 31: 3 - 10), and the response from God.
7. Point out the instances which show how the revival was linked to obedience to the Scriptures.
8. Point out the instances which show that the revival increased attendances at public worship.
9. Point out the verses which highlight how the revival produced the financial needs for God's work to be carried out.
10. What do you think of Hezekiah's response when he was told that he was going to die?
11. What are the main lessons you can learn from this story (a.) relating to your personal Chrstian character development, and (b.) relating to what you might do in preparation for a revival movement in your midst.
The Reign of King Josiah of Judah (2nd Chronicles 34 - 35.).
This story marks the last of the revivals during the period of the kings of Israel and Judah. Although there had been a number of higher points, the story has been largely one of decline, spiritually, morally, and socially, to the point where God allowed both of these kingdoms to be destroyed.
As we have found on the other occasions, devotion to God rises and falls. There is very little steady growth. Not only can individuals grow cold, so that a new surge of revival is needed within a generation. But, when one generation experiences revival, the next generation cannot live long, living on the spiritual credit account of the previous generation. Each new generation needs to experience the deep things of God for itself.
This story also provides us with a major lesson in what happens when people cannot read for themselves, and the Scriptures are not readily available.
It is hard for people living in Western countries at the end of the Twentieth Century to realise what it can be like if people cannot read, and if the Bible is not available. Such a shortcoming has an enormous negative impact upon the possibilities for people to grow in personal spiritual maturity. The struggle to encourage good teaching and doctrinal knowledge is much harder under these restrictions, and people are much more prone to adopt strange doctrines derived from ignorance and a vivid imagination.
Up until the invention of a machine for printing, and of movable type, in Europe, allowing the mass-production of books, libraries were generally very small and beyond the reach of the average person. The cost of handwritten books was very high, and only the rich could afford to own even a few books.
The inability of the average person to read was widespread until quite recently in Western countries, and is still widespread in some countries. We are now able to recognise very easily the very great negative impact of all this upon spiritual quality of life for the average person throughout the ancient world, and through the Middle Ages.
These handicaps began slowly to disappear during the Lollard movement in England, when copies of Wycliffe's Bible began to be slightly more easily available. The ability to mass-produce books co-incided with the translation of the Bible into English by William Tyndale, and into German by Martin Luther, and with the production of the New Testament in the original Greek by Erasmus.
One of the great strengths of English Puritanism was the wonderful literature that was produced by competent theologians.
One of the most notable things about the early Methodist movement in England was that all new converts were required to learn to read, so that they could read the Bible for themselves. John Wesley rightly saw the importance of this for spiritual life and growth. Here lay one of the great contributions to the world made by the early Sunday School movement. Because people worked six days a week, and because they recognised the value of being able to read, the Sunday School was an evangelical tool which enabled vast numbers to begin to profit from reading good books, and which more people could now afford to buy, or could borrow from local or church libraries.
The possibilities of the widespread impact of an evangelical revival were greatly enhanced by these developments in invention and technology, by the widespread ability to read, and by mass-produced books.
1. Describe in your own words what Josiah did in obedience to God in the twelfth year of his reign.
2. What did he do in the eighteenth year of his reign, to purify the land, and to rebuild the house of God?
3. What did the king do when Hilkiah found the book of the law of God, and read it to the king? How important was the reading of God's law in this story? How important is it today in bringing people to God, and in Christian growth?
4. As you have read through this Bible passage, what signs can you see that there was a widespread, heart-felt, popular turning to God?
5. In Bible times, it was often the case that the head of a family, or a leader such as a king, would make a decision for everyone, which all followed, regardless of individual preference. What signs of this can you see in this passage?
To what extent do you think this revival was a movement from the top down, or was it a movement from the bottom up, as well?
6. What value do you think there was in the covenant that they made to seek the Lord?
Preparations for a New Start
Part One. Intercessory Prayer. (Daniel 9.)
The prophet Jeremiah had foretold how long the great Babylonian Exile would take, before a return to Jerusalem would be possible. The seventy years were meant to be a replacement for all the Sabbaths, and Jubilee years of rest, which had NOT been respected by the Jews during their previous history.
Daniel had learned to pray, during the many years he had spent in the Captivity. He knew the vital role of confession and intercession, as the preparations for new blessings from God.
As he studied the writings of Jeremiah, prophesying a return to Jerusalem, he realised that these prophesies represented a promise from God. So, he set himself to pray to God, and to be part of the needed preparations for these promises to be fulfilled.
1. What is the main character of this prayer?
2. Make a list of all the sins that were confessed?
3. What was Daniel's attitude to these sins? How did he identify himself with them?
4. What do you do when you become aware of the sinfulness of people around you in your society? Do you complain? Do you blame them? Do you hold up your hands in despair? Do you wish piously that a great revival would change things, but do little else? Do you justify God? Do you confess the sins to God, as if they were, somehow, your own? What do you do?
5. From verse 20, onwards, we are given a glimpse into a cosmic battle, in which Daniel's prayers had somehow played a major role. Describe what you can understand about this battle, from this passage.
6. What can you infer from this about your present situation?
Part Two. The First Signs of Revival (Haggai 1, and Zechariah 1: 1 - 6.)
The first group of people had already returned to Jerusalem some years earlier. They had started to rebuild. But, somehow, things had got out of perspective.
1. Describe what the prophet saw as the main problems.
2. In what ways are these factors a problem for us today?
3. Describe how they were instructed to set priorities for the work of God.
4. Describe what they were told to do in order to be more involved in the work of God.
5. How was God going to help them? (Haggai 1: 13 - 15.)
Revivals After the Exile (Nehemiah 8.)
The Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon did so in three groups. The first came about 536 BC, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who was also known as Sheshbazzar.
The second group came in 457 BC, under the leadership of Ezra the Scribe, and the third group came in 445 BC, under the leadership of Nehemiah. (Kaiser p. 135.) It was at that point that the most significant of the revivals of this period took place.
1. How would you think the personal spiritual qualities of Nehemiah, as described in chapter one, prepared him for his work?
2. This study reveals a most interesting example of the impact of the public declaration of the Word of God. In English history, the impact of the Lollard preachers depended upon the public availability of the Scriptures in English, although literacy was not high. Again, in the time of the Reformation, the English Bible, and open preaching from it, was the basis for much of what changed England at that time. What impact does it have here? What did it produce?
3. Why were they told not to weep?
4. What particular points in the old law did they pay especial attention to, and did they try to make restitution about, in chapter eight?
5. Read carefully through the prayer in chapter nine, from verse 5. Point out those parts of the prayer where they emphasised that God was right, and where they confessed their sin. Describe their efforts at being humble before God.
6. Describe and illustrate how this prayer is an attempt to "Stand up and bless the Lord."
7. What were the issues described in chapter ten? Why were they important issues over which the Israelites needed to practice repentence and renewed living?
8. History shows us that one of the great results of this revival was that the Jewish people never again became involved in idolatry, as they had in the past, until the time of Christ. So, major changes were effected by this spiritual movement.
Another feature of Jewish life after the exile was seen in the rise of the Pharisees, who lived strict, upright lives, steeped in their religious traditions. God's law became a much greater force in the life of the nation.
Discuss similar changes that are needed in our own societies today.
Prepared by Rev. Robert Evans OAM